Kenyan Sand Boa Care Guide
Table of Contents
Kenyan Sand Boa Basics
The Kenyan sand boa (Eryx colubrinus) has a dedicated and growing following due to its manageable size, passive personality, and simplicity of care. Also referred to as the East African sand boa, these gentle and attractive snakes are great for beginners. The naturally occurring pattern of Kenyans is beautiful as it is, but there are also plenty of color morphs to choose from. Some of the available morphs for Kenyans include albino, snow, paradox, striped, tiger, and others.
Kenyan Sand Boa Size and Age
Captive-bred Kenyan sand boas are usually easy to find, from both breeders and pet stores. These are small boas, with females reaching little more than 2 feet in length with males being even a bit smaller. What they lack in size, they make up for in longevity, with 25 years or longer being common.
Kenyan Boa Temperament and Handling
Although of docile temperament, these snakes are more easily stressed than some other common pet snake species, and handling should be kept to a minimum. Once per week is about as much as this species is comfortable with.
Kenyan Boa Habitat Design
These snakes need room to move, but not too much, as this can make them feel insecure. A juvenile Kenyan Sand Boa will do well in a 10 gallon tank for a couple of years. At 2 1/2 years old, your snake will have more than doubled in length and will be sexually mature. At this point, a 20 gallon tank for a single snake may be needed, but nothing larger as these snakes do not need a whole lot of room.
If housing two snakes, a 30 gallon is recommended. A horizontally oriented tank, rather than a vertical arrangement, is the best choice for this burrowing animal. The basic elements of for a kenyan sand boa tank should include:
- warm and a cool side
- heavy water dish
- something for the snake to climb and bask on
They are notorious escape artists and the setup of a comfortable and secure habitat requires a bit of forethought.
Kenyan Sand Boa Substrate
A thick layer of aspen shavings is favored by many snake keepers, although many do like cypress shavings just as well. Aromatic woods such as pine and cedar should be avoided as they can cause lung and eye irritation. A dense (3-4 inches) covering of shavings provides a light and sanitary bedding that the snake will often disappear under as an alternative to its hide. That’s quite alright, but it is advisable to provide an insulating layer such as felt or reptile carpet under the glass and on top of the heating mat to be certain the snake will not fall asleep on top of a too hot undertank mat and burn itself. Snakes can and will choose to rest in an area that ends up being too hot for their safety. Think in terms of the old adage about a ‘boiled frog’. As the temperature increases, they don’t always feel it in time to move to a cooler spot. It is up to the keeper to carefully test and retest all surfaces several times weekly to keep your snake safe. Thick sand is another good choice for this species, as long as it is 3-4 inches deep as well.
Kenyan Sand Boa Temperature
Provide your boa with a basking spot temperature of 90 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit and an ambient temperature of 78 to 80 degrees. Nowhere in the habitat should the ambient temperature be less than 75 degrees. It’s important to take readings at the surface of the bottom of the warm side, the cooler side, and any basking areas. For temperature measurement, a digital laser thermometer is a worthwhile investment. For less than $20, a new keeper can take readings from all over the habitat with the push of a button. Keepers need to remember that the ambient temperature of the room can affect the temperature of the habitat, so frequent readings are strongly recommended.
A basking lamp can be provided, but it must be carefully placed so that it can never exceed 95 degrees F at the closest possible point to the snake. And remember, although a burrowing and grassland species, they can climb. If you provide your snake with a basking branch beneath a heat lamp, he/she is likely to use that branch as a launch pad. An adult Kenyan is slow but strong and only a screened top clamped down tightly on all four sides will prevent escape. Also, monitor your snake’s nose, as they can scrape off the skin, rubbing against the screen incessantly while trying to escape. If this becomes a problem, lower the height of the basking stone or branch or relocate it a little.
Most experienced keepers recommend an undertank heating mat, especially for night time usage for this nocturnal species. Remember not to place the hide directly over the mat, unless you have monitored the temperature for at least one week before introducing your snake to the habitat. Half way between the cool and warm sides is best short term until you are really confident in the temperature gradient.
This species is used to some moderately dry conditions. An average humidity of 30% should work, unless your snake is starting to shed, then 60-65% is better. It can be challenging to keep the humidity up in a habitat with a screen top when your Kenyan is shedding. There are ways to accomplish this. Some are more labor intensive than others, but it is up to the individual keeper’s preferences and life style.
If you choose to mist your shedding snake twice daily, be sure to spray the entire habitat with warm water, not just the snake. To spray your snake with cold water is just asking for a traumatized animal. If you must be away for the day and it looks like your guy/gal is beginning to shed, you can supply a second source of water, such as a second bowl on top of the warm side or damp sphagnum moss inside the hide. The snake and its enclosure should never be sprayed with chlorinated tap water. The water should either be aged for at least 24 hours (unsealed), or treated with a product such as Reptisafe.
Because the humidity level throughout even large habitats will be more consistent than temperature gradients, an hygrometer attached to any inside wall of the enclosure will take the guess work out of managing humidity. Check the humidity daily. A successful keeper never assumes that once temperature and humidity provisions seem optimal, they will always stay that way. That is seldom true, and good monitoring of the conditions with changing seasons will prevent problems.
Kenyans really like hiding. Provide a nice big one (always large enough to permit the snake to form a ball that is entirely contained within the hide). A hide made of something easily sanitized is essential. Plastic hides and branches may look tacky, but may be the most practical, depending on your lifestyle. I love the look of cork wood, but it is really problematic to clean. Dishwasher safe hides and bowls are the easiest by far. If you do decide on cork wood as an attractive and snake friendly hide, I would replace it every year. Otherwise, you can try what some reptile keepers do and bake the wood at 250 degrees F for 2 hours to sanitize.
Speaking of temperature gradient, a cold environment will encourage brumation. Brumation is more or less the equivalent to hibernation in mammals. It is a reaction to ambient temperatures kept below a threshold necessary for normal activities. Brumation can be deliberate, and is useful if you are attempting to breed Kenyans, or it can be accidental due to heater malfunction or keeper inattention. In captivity, brumation is not strictly necessary for health and may actually cause your pet to be unnecessarily lethargic, with a greater than normal tendency to hide and refuse food. This is yet another reason why temperature monitoring regularly is really quite important.
Kenyan Sand Boa Feeding
When to Feed your Kenyan Sand Boa
When you feed your snake depends on what times he/she is most active. Early evening is a good time to feed your Kenyan in if you are offering live food. Observe your snake the entire time that a live prey animal is inside the habitat. Since this snake alters its waking/sleeping behavior seasonally, knowing when he or she is most active anyway is, by default, the best time to feed.
You may choose to feed dead prey instead of live. You will need to dangle the item in front of the snake (dancing it around the habitat is what some keepers do with picky eaters who don’t strike right away). Then when the strike and squeeze has occurred, leave your snake in peace for at least 24 hours. Use long tongs or hemostats for this procedure.
How often should I feed my Kenyan Sand Boa?
How often you feed your snake depends on how old it is. Baby snakes don’t even start to think about food until they are two to four weeks old. Once they do, they generally need to eat about once a week. More frequent feedings will encourage them to grow faster, if that is what you wish.
As your snake gets older, he/she will not need to be fed quite as often. Once a week for an older female snake is often adequate, and males eat even less often. By observing the adult’s behavior and appetite, the keeper can get a feel for the optimal feeding schedule. A female may be hungry only every 10 days and a male every 14. But if hunting behaviors seem to be occurring, that can be a good sign that more frequent feeding may be necessary.
Should I use a separate feeding enclosure?
The use of a separate feeding enclosure is a subject of debate among fanciers. Some feel that while a separate feeding enclosure may not be strictly necessary, but it can sometimes be helpful. One argument in favor is that using a different habitat for feeding times can help to keep the main enclosure cleaner and more sanitary. A separate feeding enclosure may also be necessary if you are housing more than one snake in a habitat or if you use a substrate that can possibly be ingested.
Others feel it is unwise to move the snake to a strange environment, expect it to perform a natural behavior immediately, and then expect it not to throw up when it is handled for the purpose of placing it back in its main home. Since Kenyans can be kept communally, with two females or a pair housed together, a separate feeding area may be needed. Two females or a mated pair that get along well most of the time may fight vigorously around feeding time and will need to be separated.
What should I feed my Kenyan Sand Boa?
What will you be feeding your boa? Depends on how old he/she is. A very young snake can only manage pinkies for quite a few months. After that they will graduate to fuzzies, and then hoppers. These terms refer to feeder mice, rats have their own designations.
Age & Sizes of Feeder Mice
- Pinky: A pinky is a newborn mouse. Ranging from one to three grams in weight, depending on where you purchase them. They have no fur and are high in protein.
- Fuzzy: A fuzzy is a slightly older baby mouse, with the beginnings of fur. They are slightly bigger in size and weigh around 3-5g.
- Hopper: The next age stage. These are around 5-9g in weight and are fully formed, but not fully grown.
Age and Sizes of Feeder Rats
- The rat equivalent of a pinky would be a ‘rat pup’. These are slightly bigger in size, around 5g.
- The rat equivalent of a fuzzy is called a ‘fluff’. And around 10-25g in weight, so quite a substantial difference.
- The rat equivalent of a hopper would be ‘weaner’ rat, at around 25-50g.
Adult rats are not suitable for Kenyan Sand Boas
The size of the prey you choose will depend on whether or not the snake can both swallow and digest it. When in doubt, consider the width of the diner. That is, prey should be no wider than the widest part of the snake's body. Choosing prey that is too large, if it is actually swallowed, can result in regurgitation at the very least (if you’re lucky), with injuries, seizures, partial paralysis, gut impactions, and death being unpleasant possibilities as well.
Should I Feed my Kenyan Boa Live Prey?
Is live prey superior? Some keepers believe that live prey offers the ability for the snake to perform natural behaviors. Others claim that this is nonsense and that a rich environment and positive interaction with a human handler should provide sufficient stimulation. The advantages of pre-killed, frozen dinners over live chow are:
- Live prey can be too active for young snakes.
- Sometimes dinner bites back. Attacks by live prey can permanently disfigure your snake. Injuries caused by live prey can include lacerations to the snake's mouth area and eyes. Cutting through his/her tongue sheath is not uncommon.
- Attacks by live prey can traumatize your snake, and it can be very difficult to get that snake to feed on that prey item again.
How to Prepare Frozen Feeders for a Kenyan Sand Boa?
Pre-killed offerings can last in the freezer for up to six months. Remember to thaw it completely in the refrigerator and warm it to slightly above room temperature before feeding it to your snake. Do not use a microwave for this.
Tricks to tempt your boa into eating pre-killed meals:
- Use tongs or hemostats to dangle the prey and "dance" it around the cage to make it appear alive and entice the snake to strike at it.
- Sense of smell is very keen in most snakes. Make sure the prey is warmer than room temperature; it will smell more appetizing to your snake that way. You can also pith (pierce) the braincase of the prey with a pin or nail to release even more enticing odors (yum).
- If your snake is housed on sand, be sure that any food items offered are completely dry. Wet food items will collect sand on them that the snake will consume and may very well lead to impaction.
How to Clean a Kenyan Sand Boa's Habitat?
Cleaning the habitat is fairly straight forward and should be done lightly once a week, and thoroughly once a month. Attending to sanitation weekly is something you will thank yourself for, because snake feces can become rank in a musty way that is distinctively snake and definitely unpleasant.
- Daily: Spot remove any feces that you see.
- Weekly: Remove and dispose of the top 1 inch of bedding and replace with fresh.
- Bi-weekly: Place dishwasher safe furniture in the dishwasher every two weeks.
- Monthly: Remove everything, and spritz the habitat interior with 10% bleach solution. If the terrarium is glass, spray sides with vinegar after the bleach has been applied and removed and wipe down for better visibility. Do not use bleach stronger than a 10% solution and do not place your snake back inside without wiping down all damp areas after they have soaked in bleach for ½ hour. After wiping down, wait another ½ hour, install fresh substrate and reposition the sanitized furniture. Only then should you place your snake back in.
Use a Separate Container When Cleaning
This is one time where a separate container for your snake is handy. A Tupperware box with tight fitting lid, a thick rumpled terry cloth towel in the bottom, and a warm location (or you can but the box right next to the aquarium/vivarium, remove the undertank pad from the underneath the primary habitat and slip it under the secondary holding container) are all that is needed. If using supplemental heat beneath a Tupperware or other plastic box, be sure to slip a hand towel over the heating element so it does not come into direct with the plastic. Also, preheat the box for at least 10 minutes before placing the snake inside.
Avoid these common diseases with Excellent Sanitation and Proper Feeding Schedules
Proper feeding and sanitation can help to prevent most common illnesses in Kenyans. For example, blister disease is associated with damp, filthy environments and effects the bottom most scales, the scutes, that are in constant contact with the filth. The scutes develop a reddish appearance and if untreated they become swollen and infected by bacteria and fungi. The habitat must receive a comprehensive cleaning immediately and the snake must see a vet, who will probably administer an injectable antibiotic, followed by a course of topical treatments administered twice daily (by the owner).
Other conditions such as mouth rot, respiratory infections, and fungal infections are often a function of poor care or a dirty environment. Mouth rot is a very common outcome of a filthy habitat. It is often first noted as a pus lined mouth, or bubbling nostrils. When this is discovered the animal should see the vet ASAP. Antibiotics and mouth rinsing twice a day may be required (not fun for anyone).
A disease that is particularly prevalent and virulent for Kenyans is inclusion body disease (IBD), a virus transmitted through contact with bodily fluids. This disease can be spread by external woundings inflicted on a clean individual by an infected animal, such as a potential mate carrying the disease, or by snake mites. There is no known cure, and the results can be a terribly disfiguring ‘corkscrewing’ of the animal’s body or the course of months to years, often ending in premature death. Therefore, prevention is the key. Because it is possible to house more than one sand boa in the same habitat, be sure that any new snakes that you acquire are free this disease.
Use monthly sanitization techniques before introducing a clean snake to any previously used enclosure. Never place a clean snake in an un-sanitized habitat, such as one acquired from a garage sale or given to you by a friend, which may be harboring mites. Although tiny, these mites can be seen with the naked eye and when the snake is handled by an owner with wet hands, the mites will come off the snake and onto the hands, making detection fairly easy. The mites themselves are easy to control by oiling the snake for ½ an hour, then wiping it down thoroughly. This will make the snake much more comfortable, but will not prevent the disease if those mites are carriers of this virus and have already been enjoying a blood meal at your snake’s expense.
Good husbandry and sensible purchasing of new stock and equipment is the best way to prevent this disease by preventing infestation of the mites that carry it.
Kenyans are beautiful creatures that will provide you with many years of companionship and amusement.